A Note from our Vinegar Maker

We asked Charles Williams from Broken Clock Vinegar Works, who produces our Persimmon Vinegar, to share about the history of vinegar and how it is made. These are his words: 

The production of vinegar has been around almost as long as the production of wine, beer or mead; depending on your alcohol of choice. My unsubstantiated take on the first vinegar produced goes something like this: before there was Google, encyclopedias, or schools the easiest way to learn something was through repetition. Sometimes this would lead to unexpected results, much like the first humans who tried to preserve fresh fruit…let’s say persimmons… in earthenware jars to enjoy later, only to fail and end up with a slightly fizzy, ego enhancing libation instead. Now, we all have some knowledge of the illustrious, romantic history of winemaking. But do you know what the centuries of failed attempts to make wine yielded? You guessed it: vinegar!

Since there were no drains to dump this spoiled wine down, and more time was spent on food production (so arguably every food produced was cherished), humans decided to get creative. Can’t find any potable water, antiseptic for your wounds, relief for a tummy ache, or simple flavoring for your food? Throw some vinegar on it and all will be better. Attila the Hun gave vinegar-based energy drinks to his troops while conquering the world. Hippocrates prescribed vinegar to alleviate almost all that ails. So while vinegar is currently the ignored, redheaded step-child (twice forcibly removed) of the wine world, it was once considered a life sustaining necessity of life.     

Today, Acetmonsieurs such as myself produce vinegar on purpose, but with a slightly more measured approach. No finished persimmon vinegar is better than the fruit it starts with so, much like wine, quality begins in the orchard. White Buffalo Land Trust takes care to source persimmons from farmers working to regenerate their land. We then take this fruit and crush it through a machine that looks like an oversized commercial garbage disposal. The resulting must is then measured for sugar content using the Brix scale and for pH to help get the parameters for the next step: fermentation.

The start of fermentation is my favorite part of the process. There is nothing but the possibilities of what lies ahead! As the yeast begin to do their thing, converting sugar into carbon dioxide and alcohol, the must separates from the liquid below and creates a cap. Twice a day, every day, for the duration of the ferment I get to do punch-downs with a stainless steel tool specifically built for the job. It’s the best shoulder workout you can imagine. For the 2019 harvest there were 16 bins, totaling 36,0000 pounds of fruit, that needed punch downs. Yes, I was sore.
 

Once the fruit is mostly fermented it is time to remove the solids from the liquid. This is my least favorite part of the process as fermented persimmons tend to behave like applesauce and using a press at this stage is simply not doable. So I use gravity and essentially very large coffee filters to extract as much wine as possible. While effective, it isn’t terribly efficient. And if we were only producing persimmon wine it would be a huge problem because as the individual droplets travel through the air they are already beginning to oxidize…the whole point of vinegar production.

After allowing the sediment to sink to the bottom of tank, the finished, dry wine is now ready for acetification, the process of turning wine into vinegar. Technically, acetification is a unique process although generally we label it as a type of fermentation. This is achieved by adding a mother of vinegar (MOV) to a slightly diluted batch of wine. The MOV is a gelatinous blob that forms on top of the liquid, actually a plethora of bacteria, that converts the ethanol in the wine into acetic acid. It prefers warm and dark conditions and is aerobic, meaning it needs oxygen to survive…hence floating on the top. At Broken Clock we have a specialized room designed to maintain the quintessential conditions for a healthy MOV twenty-four hours a day. After about 60 days in this room, about 80%-90% of the acetification has taken place. The vinegar is then transferred to oak barrels for aging and softening until it is ready to be bottled.



All told, from the time the fruit is picked until the day it is bottled takes no less than 10 months, but typically over a year. I hope y’all have enjoyed this little peek behind the vinegar curtain, and if you have any questions feel free to leave them in the comments and I will answer them as best I can.
 

 

 

Cheers!

 

Charles T. Williams

Acetmonsieur, Broken Clock Vinegar Works

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